Half-term holidaymakers have been warned of heaving UK immigration queues at UK ports and airports, with the Border Force Union warning passengers to expect wait times of up to six hours. Queues during the next school half-terms are expected to hit levels not seen since summer 2020.
Meanwhile, Border Force officers are also expecting a surge in the number of travellers mixing from ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green-list’ countries, sparking fears of a fresh COVID-19 wave.
The Immigration Services Union (ISU), which represents Border Force staff expects traveller numbers to start rising from Monday, 24 May as half-terms begin this week and the following week.
Professional officer at the ISU, Lucy Moreton, warned that the chances of people being infected with COVID during the two-week half-term window will increase.
She said: “At this point it appears to me to be inevitable we will have ‘red’, ‘amber’ and ‘green’ passengers mixing together in UK immigration queues at ports and airports. The more people that come through, the longer the queues will be.”
Ms Moreton urged passengers to ‘dot every i, and cross every t’ when completing arrival forms to help avoid long queues and to help keep themselves, other passengers and border staff safe from the risk of infection.
Some UK schools started their half-term break on 24 May, while other pupils will break from school the following week.
Intense few weeks
Ms Moreton said: “It will be a tense few weeks for UK immigration personnel, while the risk of further spreading the virus is also a factor, including the more transmittable Indian variant because of increased mixing of passengers from red, amber and green countries across UK ports and airports.”
Workers at Heathrow recently raised fears of overcrowding at the airports just days after a traffic light system to restart overseas travel was announced by the government. Trade Union, the GMB, said its members had reported travellers from different lists being ‘stuck in a bottleneck’ prior to immigration.
GMB national officer, Nadine Houghton, said: “I have been inundated by messages from concerned GMB members providing a vital service at Heathrow - workers who desperately want to get the UK flying again but are in fear for theirs and their families’ safety.”
“GMB wants to know how the government will mitigate further problems when more countries are added to colour-coded lists. As our quarantine hotels fill up, what measures do ministers have in place if more countries turn red?”, Ms Houghton added.
Protecting public health
A spokesperson for the government said: “Protecting public health is our priority and as we reopen international travel safely we will maintain 100% health checks at the border to protect the public and our vaccine rollout.”
“Arrangements for the management of returning passengers are the responsibility of the relevant airport, which we expect to be done in a COVID-secure way,” the spokesperson added.
However, last month, Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said he was extremely concerned about the ability of UK immigration staff at the border to cope with increased volumes of traveller traffic.
The concerns come after the government announced the introduction of the traffic light system, which will see travellers entering the UK from so-called ‘red’ and ‘amber’ countries having to quarantine. For those arriving from the highest risk red destinations, they will have to quarantine in hotels.
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